Part II: My Generation
I continued my inquiry the next school year. No more quandary. I now was convinced that the digital story project was not a frivolous waste of time. On the contrary, it was rigorous academic work with so many added benefits.
I decided to use another topic, also a tested analytical essay assignment designed with similar academic goals as the “Characterizing a Neighborhood” assignment. However, this essay required a more complex thesis statement, asking students to nominate an artifact for their generation—something that represents their generation’s hopes, dreams, fears, or preoccupations and explain why they have chosen this artifact. (My Generation Assignment.pdf)
As in the previous year, I planned to follow my usual instructional practice—teaching writing as a process, but along the way I would continue to tweak my instructional components to fit the new digital elements and focus on how instruction would have to change as well as how student writing would change as other elements were incorporated into the text.
Again the focus would be on inquiry and reflection.
We begin with materials from Pearson Foundation's Digital Arts Alliance Project, the essay assignment, and a class schedule for preparing for the Pearson residency. Students form groups, choosing partners or trios to work with, workable numbers for sharing computers. Then collaboration begins as each group brainstorms, talks, compromises to decide on their topic. As usual, I break down the process into workable segments to help students at each step and to keep them on schedule. I use the same process I always do for this composition assignment, but work on modifying for the digital component.
The first step due from the students is a Topic Statement stating their thesis and outlining specific details and examples they plan to use to support and illustrate that thesis. Because this thesis is complex, requiring not only a concrete choice of artifact—for example a cell phone, but also the more abstract analytical statement of what this artifact represents or symbolizes about their generation—for example the need to always be connected, I create a template for possible thesis statement formats to help students with their analysis. Since their thesis will be the controlling idea of their digital narrative (as it is in any well- written essay), it’s key that the students are able to understand the analytical level of this thesis and to clearly state their assertion. (Artifact Topic Statement.pdf)
Focus is on the essay as voiceover narrative for the digital story, following the writing as a process procedure with three drafts—1st Working draft, 2nd Sophisticated draft, 3rd Final draft. At each step students are thinking about and collecting assets for their digital story. An interesting recursive process is happening as new images change the nature of the text. Lots of talk and sharing happens along the way. When we finish the sophisticated draft, two groups combine to become a response group. They are responding to their written essay text as usual, but also planned image assets for the digital story come in to the discussion. (Digital Film Narrative Response.pdf) Once they have their Final draft, students may start practicing reading the narrative aloud for recording. The next step is the Storyboard. Students copy their narrative on to their storyboard and use this worksheet as both a planning tool and as a resource when they’re working on the computers actually making their digital stories. Pressure builds as our deadline approaches—all components are due to me on the Friday before the Pearson residency week, so all groups will be prepared to make their digital stories. (Storyboard Worksheet Example (Digital Arts Alliance).pdf)
We spend an intense week with Pearson making the digital stories. (Later Pearson will make individual copies for each student of his/her story as well as class sets for me.)
The week following the residency we focus on our inquiry. I ask students to write an essay reflecting on their experience with the digital story project overall. I also ask them to reflect on what they have learned about writing. (See collected Student reflections.) We plan our Film Festival where we will share and celebrate our work.